Facebook storytellers lift virus-hit Dhaka’s gloom

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A  narrator from HerStory Foundation during a Facebook live session to read-aloud stories for children in Bangladesh. Photo courtesy: (HerStory Foundation)
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Volunteers spray disinfectants on vehicles amid concerns about coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Dhaka, Bangladesh, March 29, 2020. (REUTERS)
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Updated 31 March 2020

Facebook storytellers lift virus-hit Dhaka’s gloom

  • Nonprofit organization uses the lockdown to tell inspiring stories

DHAKA: A smartly dressed woman wearing clothes in bright and beautiful colors fills the screen as Iqra Taznin logs on to Facebook for an interactive storytelling session.
For 30 minutes every Sunday and Tuesday, Taznin, a grade 7 student, forgets the fact that she hasn’t been to school for days, or that Bangladesh is under lockdown, to deal with the global coronavirus outbreak.
“It’s a very positive initiative which helps the children learn about many things even while they are confined at home in these days of quarantine,” Noor-e-Tazmin Joya, Taznin’s mother, told Arab News on Monday.
She reasons that the initiative, launched by HerStory Foundation (HSF), a Bangladeshi nonprofit organization, also educates the youths about iconic women from the country, by sharing their stories of trial and triumph.
“My daughter finds the stories very interesting as it’s all about the legendary women of this country. She also dreams of being a trendsetter someday like many of these women,” she added.
HSF began its initiative in 2016 by building an archive of stories about iconic Bangladeshi women and their role in the country’s history.
The result was “The Adventures of Super Girls” illustrated books which contain the biographies of 41 inspirational women, and which are available in both Bengali and English in bookstores across the country.
Some of the stories narrated during the Facebook live session, which was launched on March 22, include one about acclaimed immunologist Dr. Firdausi Qadri who talks about the spread of viral diseases and the individuals that help fight them.
“On March 29, we read the story of Novera Ahmed, the sculptor and co-designer of one of Bangladesh’s most important monuments, the Shaheed Minar, because it was her 90th birthday,” Zareen Mahmud Hosein, executive director of HSF, told Arab News.


HSF began its initiative in 2016 by building an archive of stories about iconic Bangladeshi women and their role in the country’s history.

Since being released four years ago, the books have gained immense popularity, so much so that, today, they are used by parents and educators to discuss the history of the region, Hosein said.
“The stories are short and contain a moral lesson that children can incorporate into their lives,” she added. Sahrin Ahmed, a mother of an eight-year-old boy, agrees.
“Since the sessions are live and interactive, they provide an opportunity for my son to ask any questions and he receives an instant reply,” Ahmed told Arab News.
HSF launched its first reading session in September 2019, partnering with Dhaka University. Under the one-year program, it trained 17 people to read the stories out loud to students from different schools.
Today, the best of the lot read aloud the same stories to a broader audience online. It helps to make the most of the lockdown, Hosein said.
“Since the dramatic changes of the past few weeks, we have been working to adapt to new realities. Now, more than ever, we need stories of encouragement,” she added.
Children and parents from anywhere in the world can join the live storytelling session, which is free of cost, by logging onto HSF’s Facebook page.
It is essential to keep the conversation going, Hosein said. “We might be isolated, but we are not alone. We will continue to share stories of courage and resilience. So at 3 p.m. every Sunday and Tuesday, we read a story and start a conversation,” she added.

India moves into top 10 worst-hit by COVID-19

Updated 13 min 45 sec ago

India moves into top 10 worst-hit by COVID-19

  • Experts claim lockdown measures have failed as death toll passes 4,000 mark

NEW DELHI: India on Monday climbed into the top 10 countries worst-hit by the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, with the number of deaths passing the 4,000 mark.

Sunday saw the highest one-day surge in cases with 6,634 new infections reported, taking the current total to 140,215, slightly ahead of Iran.

The deadly COVID-19 outbreak has now claimed the lives of 4,041 people in India.

Monday’s milestone figures coincided with the resumption of domestic flight services which experts claimed was an indication of the failure of the two-month-long nationwide lockdown aimed at stemming the spread of COVID-19.

“The lockdown was meant to contain the cases but even after 60 days cases are rising, which means the lockdown was not properly planned and executed,” said virologist Prof. T. Jacob John, of the Indian Academy of Sciences.

Harjit Singh Bhatti, of the Progressive Medicos and Scientists Forum, said: “The government understands that it has failed in its lockdown plan. They could not anticipate the problems and the crisis it would engender. As a result, the government has no other option but to resume the economy. For the government now the focus is livelihood not the life.”

However, the Indian government disputed the claims saying the lockdown had helped to tackle the virus.

“If the doubling rate in India before the lockdown was between three to four days, today the doubling rate is more than 13 days. Lockdown and all its guidelines have acted as a potent social vaccine,” said India’s Minister of Health and Family Welfare Dr. Harsh Vardhan.

“Lockdown was imposed in India at the right time. Other developed countries wasted many days to take this decision,” he added.

On March 25, India started the first phase of its nationwide lockdown and the country is now into the fourth phase of the shutdown, which ends on May 31. Two months ago, India had only recorded 550 COVID-19 cases.

The western state of Maharashtra is one of the worst-affected in India with close to 60,000 cases and about 2,000 deaths. Mumbai, its financial capital, has registered more than 30,000 cases alone with at least 1,000 fatalities, forcing local authorities to procure 80 percent of private-hospital beds in the metropolis to deal with the crisis.

“The cases in Mumbai are increasing every day and health workers across the city are working overtime to deal with the situation,” Dr. Shariva Randive, of the Maharashtra Association of Resident Doctors (MARD), told Arab News.

Pune-based Dr. Avinash Bhonde, of the Indian Medical Association (IMA), said: “A central team of doctors said a couple of months ago that Mumbai alone would witness more than 150,000 cases but in the whole of Maharashtra the total number is around 60,000, so it is less than what we expected.”

He added that there had been gaps in handling the lockdown. “Had there been micro planning and some corrective steps taken in the middle of the lockdown we could have been in a better situation.”

The length of the lockdown left millions of daily wage workers in big cities jobless and homeless. With no economic incentives or alternative plans put in place for them by the government, and no transport, many walked back to their villages, sometimes up to 800 km from their place of work.

To deal with the unprecedented situation the government, from the first week of May, started running special trains to carry more than 3 million people to the eastern Indian states of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh.

On May 10, Bihar had recorded 700 cases of COVID-19, but on Sunday the number was more than 2,600. The state has set up an estimated 14,000 quarantine centers to house thousands of people returning from virus hotbeds such as Maharashtra and Delhi.

“Bihar’s coronavirus cases may be lower than other states right now, but the way it is growing it is alarming and the state might face a huge problem,” a health official in the Bihar government told Arab News.